Grand Island becoming a destination for solar parks

Feb 7, 2018

Four projects are currently in motion to lease town and school land for solar parks in Grand Island.

Credit Active Solar

Plans to do so started after the town board passed a solar energy law last year.  This includes sites off of Bedell Road and another behind Eco Island—which is a nature reserve that belongs to the school.

Grand Island Town Supervisor Nate McMurray said if all these projects go as planned, the island would produce over 20 megawatts of electricity on its own.

“Now that is an incredible number,” said McMurray. “It’s a number I think that other communities should look at and say wow. It shows that we can have our standard of living and have our lifestyle protected and do things with new technology that just simply were in impossible just a few years ago.”

McMurray said the solar system that they want to implement is fairly new.

“Traditionally you would buy solar panels and put them on your house,” said McMurray. “You would have the duty to upkeep them and install them. This is different. This is community solar. How it works is, you would actually sign a contract in the case of the first one we’re building with a company called Blue Rock. Blue Rock would then sell electricity to you.”

The Trump administration recently announced they would impose steep tariffs on imported solar panels. Grand Island Town Supervisor Nate McMurray said those tariffs look ok at first glance. However, it could result in the construction of fewer solar projects.

“Many, if not most, of the jobs related to solar come from installation and assembly,” said McMurray. “That’s where a lot of the business comes from. And also from maintenance. There is a lot of jobs that go in to construction. I know (with) these projects in Grand Island there’s going to be a lot of man hours that are involved.”

Much of the land being used for the projects has been vacant for decades. Two of the four current projects are land locked and can only be accessed by hiking. That’s appealing for residents and vendors alike.

“It is a safe form of technology. It’s not going to emit radiation or create fires,” said McMurray. “These are some of the discussions we actually had. Also, we’re putting it in places where there was nothing for a long time. Like right along the thruway.”

McMurray said it took some convincing when he first started as town supervisor.

“When I first came in to office, there was talk of the opposite,” said McMurray. “We should do a moratorium on solar. I know other communities have done so. I looked at the reasons why people would do a moratorium and they weren’t logical. They were based on misunderstandings of how the technology works.”

Officials from vendors Active Solar and Solar Park have been in talks to lease the land. If any solar company were to fail, they would be required to return the property to its natural state.

If all projects move ahead as planned, Grand Island would be able to potentially produce enough electricity to cover 50% of their total use.

“We’re right by the Tonawanda Coke and across the way the old Huntley Plant that for generations, frankly poisoned the residents of Western New York,” said McMurray. “To have this type of change where we can have all this electricity, all this power and not put anyone’s life at risk or threaten anyone’s health is kind of an amazing thing.”